Post Angelic Musings for The Electronic Beat

Post Angelic Musings for The Electronic Beat

by Nile Southern
(c) 1994

Today's subject: Gregory Corso's Socratic Rap (or, "Gee, Allen, we wuz good lookin' back then, wuzn' we?")

Corso's Socratic Rap:
Dateline: Saturday, 11am.

Gregory is here, sober, and very with it. When I ran into him on the 4th of July he looked like a 21st Century carpetbagger, or 15th century monk: long linen gown, weird rope-like belt, hair mottled over his sweaty face, wine bottle dangerously wavering, woman wrapped around his arm, speech and index finger somehow balancing his whole body, which stopped to talk--articulate, but unreceptive (thats how it is when you're drunk).

"Hey man, you got your hundred back...that game's finished, man." Once I gave Gregory a hundred dollars to take a cab to meet me and the rest of our party uptown. He never arrived--going off to his own party of his own-- unleashing the miracle ticket to speedball heaven in the bat of an eye. Its always been a source of contention between us, and an amusing one--(certainly more humorous than contentious after he paid it back (three years later-- thanks to the 'Jean Stein Grant'--thank you Jean). I heard during the period when he was both unable and unwilling to pay me back--initially claiming (through his friend/assistant) 'anyone would be crazy to give a known junkie hard cash', (one could say the same for 'poet'-- making it a doubly unwise loan on my part), that he had just had a child and had named him Nile. I thought this was so bizarre, and for a moment believed I was having a flash into 'beat-zen' sensability' in which the 'good karma' carries on--a hundred here (from Nile), a kid there (keep the groove going). While he was here I asked Greg about his son's name. "No, no, man, its not about you--its not your name, man! Its the kid's! He had to have an Orthodox name...Nilos--the kid's name is Nilos--he was a Saint, man." The ironic ronde is that I had just officially renamed myself after the same saint in order to marry my Greek Orthodox wife. Nilos means Nile in Greek.

The cyclic ironies just never stop, and I'll have to jump back a few grooves so we can skip-stone over the best tracks:

One night I was in New York with Dennis Hopper, via my father who wrote a script with him a while back called Easy Rider. Hopper had just released Out Of The Blue--probably the last of the bad-boy Dennis (Hollywood Menace) films in which he starred and directed. At the time he was typically saying in his interviews "all my films end in explosions, man, I can't explain it--things are just so confuuusing! like life!" He had just taped the David Letterman show, and we were killing time before the 11:30pm broadcast at the swanky House of Kress--Dennis had an eye for the heiress. A large group of us, including Gregory, stalked around the Victorian 5 story home which faced opposite the Metropolitan Museum. Traditional photographs of Mom and Pop Kress were in one sitting room, along with a certificate from President Reagan congradulating them on their 5,000th store. Although Dennis was a little 'zonked' by the earlier taping of the tv interview, he is always charged, and when Greg started reading from 'Gasoline' (which he pulled out of his pocket), Dennis jumped right in saying 'that the film man--that's my movie!' Gregory then improvised about the school bus full of kids, and how America is like a schoolbus racing towards a train-crash, and all the kids inside--well its not very pretty. In the film version the bus explodes (full of children) and in Gregory's America explodes.

There were many large rooms, and Dennis stole upstairs where Madamoiselle Kress seemed to be sleeping, or putting children to bed--it wasn't clear which. As the rest of us entered one particularly magnetic room; deep mahagony paneling, long oak table, pewter sconces, oil paintings, Gregory stood at the top of the stairs waving a bunch of pages: "Man, dig this! The whole rooms been brought over from Germany--15th Century Rhineland time--wow, man--this is a freakin' Vermeer!" He walked down the stairs, his carriage erect and regal, transported to the grandeur of some other time, "and this paintings a Holbein...right there..." Now Gregory seemed more the Museum tour-leader than the madman poet he usually is. The paper he had was a guide to the entire house, listing the where the room originated from--sometimes being constructed stone by stone or wood panel by wood panel, then going on to detail the contents of each room--everyone reading like a something out of a Sotheby's catalog or Michelin guide. The apartment had a glorious staircase leading to the majoority of the rooms: French Drawing Room, 17th Century Neopolitan Bedroom, 18th Century Water Closet, etc. The feeling was, as is usual when hanging with the ultra rich or famous, that this incredible place, and our engagement with it, was the greatest entertainment Dennis could dream up for us--a special event, like taking your friends to a new club noone had found out about yet. It was something fun and extrordinary to do--and yet there was a subtext of 'work' involved--as if Dennis was trying to make it with the heiress either getting at her money, her leisure, or her sex. When Den appeared with the young Miss, it all seemed a bit more on the level--she was very beautiful, and interested in Dennis, who after all owns one of the finest collections of (modern) paintings in the world and this young woman from a chain-store fortune was lucky to find an unpredictable scoundrel who at least appreciated the finer things, and did the most surprising things...We all went over to Dennis' hotel room on 58th street, where drinks were served, joints were smoked and the tv switched on.

Partying with Dennis Hopper and Gregory Corso is like watching a party and forgetting you are part of it, because they banter and improvise like jazz be-boppers, both of them having much experience with bop, drugs, poetry, sex-- the things that make life like music. So we watch the first segment of the interview, and its during the commercials that things get interesting. Hopper and Corso start riffing on the context of what comes next in lieu of what Hopper had just said, or some poignant exchange that had just went over the heads of Mr. and Mrs. Frontporch, "This is where St. Louis inserts the line about 'every good girl deserving favors' while the rest of America burns," Gregory says. Another segment of interview--everyone dumbfounded by Letterman's lack of with-it-ness and Hopper's inevitable slight stiffness. A commercial break. Hopper: "This is the Coletrain section, man--see the blue, and the cool run...yeah." It at this point that Gregory puts his fface close to mine and says: "Every line I say is worth a hundred bucks!" he laughs, eyes twinkling, reeling back a bit "Can you dig it?!" I told him yeah, I could.

After the last segment, we all leave and take elevators down to the street. My father had not been interacting with Gregory as much as I had, and I waited for Gregory to come out, eager to continue some conversation we were having. The group agreed to reassemble at The Brasserie for a late-night meal. As I was about to enter the cab my father was in and Gregory was about to enter his, I told him again; 'meet us at the Brasserie--55th between park and Lexington. Gregory, facing me a little wabbly, holding the cab door open, says, "Hey man, I don't have any money..." as if money was something no one should expect him to have. Now I had just been paid for a job of laying floor tiles or editing someone's music-video- -in any case, I had a hundred dollar bill in one pocket and a five in the other. Thinking on my feet, I considered that if I give him the five I'll never ever see it again, but if I give him the hundred, there is no way I'd never get it back. I was wrong, and right, for Gregory never showed up at The Brasserie, but I did get the hundred from him, years later.

Jump a beat back to Naropa, and I'm asking drunken Greg about his kid's name. Gregory's 'Socratic Rap':

[We started the morning by people in the audience reciting lines of poetry especially dear to them, and letting Corso riff on them. After 10 minutes or so of this, Corso adjusted his bifoculs and got down to business--very together, like a hipster professor, or a Lenny Bruce ready for his lecture.]

"Ok, here's the shot on Socratic Rap," Corso said, emphasising 'shot' like it was the flesh of an image we were all familiar with--or a literal hypodermic, loaded with the heaviest dose of life itself. "Socrates, in ancient Greece, could talk about anything, man, and did talk about everything--it didn't matter what it was--he would work out what he wanted with what was happening ...there's a great line by John Donne...dig this...I was standing on the world's loveliest floor...Now he's describing the 12 room Acropolis in Athens during an eclipse...anyway...I'm gonna do this rap thing a little differently, 'cuz there are really only eight things--an' there always have been--to deal with in Life with a capital fuckin' 'L', and I'll lay 'em out for ya: TRUTH-- always stops you from taking the next step... GOD... LOVE--you got yer love shot...FAITH/HOPE/CHARITY-- that's my 'Buddist' nod of the hat [he nods]...BEAUTY-- thats a shot...DEATH--you got yer death shot... MONEY... [audience laughs] tough shot... HUMOR--that's a good shot...Humor's the Divine Butcher--gets rid of all the shit.

Out of all the hipsters who were present during the Beat Conference, Corso is the only one who has retained a true 'hipster' persona--largely accomplished by the dead- eye savagery in his delivery--especially in his contemplative 'thow-away' moments. As a person familiar, if not obsessed with the recordings of Lenny Bruce, I can say that Corso is the closest living thing to Bruce today--its there in his voice--in the utterly devastated conviction behind his words--words which, like Bruce's, were unmitigated instant-bop distillations of his thoughts-- thought which say society and the individual locked in a constant life and death ridiculous struggle.

So whattaya think--whats the shot we're after today-- let's be democratic--we'll take a vote.

Humor won, and it was at this point that the organized 'rap' broke down and Corso, rather than riffing on humor and involving the audience, invited Allen Ginsberg, Ann Waldman, David Dellinger and a few others to join the 'discussion'. What proceeded to happen was Corso asking the bleary-eyed poets if they "knew any jokes". Pathos soon turned to bathos, and Delinger began to talk about prison. As happened to me regularly during these panels, so many contemporary threads presented themselves at once in the context of contemporary retrieval through a single point (i.e. Dellinger, Corso, or Ginsberg himself), that a simple question was difficult to formulate. A question such as the following went through my mind--trying to tie together everything that was going on in front of me, and everything that had come before: "Gregory, you sound remarkably like Lenny Bruce--and it seems that Socrates could be thought of as practicing humor, or 'shaking the people up'/questioning things--both Lenny Bruce and Socrates were found guilty, imprisoned and poisoned--at what point does the media, as representative of society, shut down the individual who is questioning things--What are the equivalent executions and how can they possibly be carried out today, since there is a tv eye on everything, and nothing escapes us anymore?"

Any ideas Mister Dave Dellinger, who's done more time than all of us in this room put together? How 'bout you Allen? Liberty and the bardic-spirit in the cool gaze of the executioner's pop-song? Rather than ask any questions, I watched Corso's friends come to the table and sit around groping for jokes. None were funny, a lot were told.

At one point the following exchange between Allen and Corso occurred:

Gregory, why did you reject me when you were so young and beautiful?
I never rejected you....well, I was too...It was too...I was beautiful back then wasn't I?
You weren't bad yourself.
Allen (laughing):
But you rejected me!
We we're both good lookin' then. an' Jack--Boy Jack was good lookin'...

Finally questions were taken from the audience, but there wasn't much time.